Syncopation, NOLA Style

Where else can you enjoy a Strawberry Ice Cream Daquiri on a hot afternoon with a live soundtrack of exquisite, blues and soul?

Then there is the taste of a soulful bowl of Chicken & Andouille Gumbo just before being entertained by the melifluous voice of local jazz legend Charmaine Neville.

Or, you can interrupt your picking at side plates of alligator bites, brussels & bacon, and fried green tomatoes with a session by a Kermit (Ruffins, that is)?

Or even sample a brew of Dixie while accompanied by the Dixieland sound of the Steamboat Stompers?

And does all this happen in Cardiff, you ask? Think not, I reply.

Until we speak again, New Orleans is all about off-beat and unexpected variety. A place where true Jazz legends secretively perform in what to all intents and purposes looks like a run-down shack (i.e. the Preservation Hall). And, that my friend, is syncopation!

 

Gone Fishing!

Whatever your level of budget or taste you can bet New Orleans is going to come up with something that will add to your lifetime gastronomic mind map. My relationship to fish is generally one of appreciating their grace and beauty rather than their taste; but there is a small range of the critters that had just better watch out when I am around!

When the company is right for a spot of the fine dining I recently found that there is no better place in the French Quarter than GW Fins (aptly named for a seafood joint).

Okay, maybe I did cheat a bit with a Crispy Belly Pork & Watermelon appetiser; but you would to if you had the chance! In any case, my companions were diving straight into the pond after the Fried Snapper Belly (complete with fin)…

Fried Snapper Belly and Crispy Pork Belly

However, it didn’t take me long to cross swords with the finest tasting Blackened Swordfish with Fried Shrimp, whilst viewing my companions Spearfished Cobia across the table.

Spearfished Cobia and Swordfish dishes

And, just for variety, there was also an example of the house speciality Scalibut

Scalibut

Until we speak again, feel free to suggest further gastronomic challenges you would like me to take on your behalf… there is no end to the level of personal sacrifice I am prepared top make on your behalf. In the meantime check out GW Fins menu and wine list for salivation (definitely not salvation) purposes…

 

 

Birth of the Cocktail

Once upon a time in 19th century New Orleans, a local pharmacist, Antoine Peychaud, created the first ever cocktail. I can only assume it was a quiet day for the business when he decided to create a unique strain of bitters, and to mix it with a range of ingredients most notably Sazerac Cognac… and in that moment the Sazerac Cocktail was created.

Within  no time the invention was celebrated in the aptly named Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel, and it was soon to be found in it’s own Sazerac House on Royal Street. Fast forward some 170 years, on 2nd October 2019 the original cocktail celebrates the opening day of its new shrine on the corner of Canal and Magazine Streets

Sazerac House

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The original French Sazerac Cognac has been long since superceded by an American Sazerac Rye, but what exactly are you consuming before you eventually fall over?

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But, this shrine is not just a museum, it is also about to become the newest addition to the overall production line. Yours truly has signed the outside of the first barrel that will emerge from this new home… I only have 6 years to wait to taste it!

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Moving through this spacious well structured and informative museum leaves you with a strong sense of final purpose…

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Until we speak again, remember a few words of wisdom while indulging in this very moreish drop…

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Deja Vu

Coming back to New Orleans again is one thing, but the irresistible pull of brunch at the Palace Cafe on Canal Street comes down to one thing. It’s not the neatly tailored waiting staff, or even the delicate combination of dark wood panelling, white linen tablecloths and shiny floor coverings. It’s not the coffee; far better can be found with a little bit of intrepid searching.

No, it simply comes down to their signature dish… a savoury take on a sweet idea, topped off with a creole muniere sauce of just enough spice. Yes, for my regular reader, I’m once again introducing you to the Crabmeat Cheesecake that is every bit as good to the taste as it is stunning on the eye…

Until we speak again, this cat is simply going to continue suffering in order to bring you these magic morsels!

Old & New: Barcelona Style

“They don’t make them like they used to!” Of course not… it was a different time, different priorities, with less of the corporately bland requirements to have it done by yesterday. Oh, and health and safety hadn’t yet been invented.

But nobody told Gaudi and the Barcelona authorities that you can’t make them like you used to!

Take a stroll around the atmospheric Gothic Quarter and Barcelona Cathedral presents a dramatic example of what the 13th to 15th centuries had to offer the religiously inclined…

Then, if you’ve not had enough of the reflective devotion imposed by the incredible grandeur of such ecclesiastical trappings, take a further stroll (or few stops by Metro) to check out what the 19th to 21st centuries have to offer, c/o Antoni Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia

Until we meet again, whether it is then or now… WOW!

Premier League unplugged [16]

Perhaps being at the Cardiff City Stadium is a bit like watching Barcelona these days…

Until we speak again, it certainly was like watching Barcelona, as the final score was Cardiff City 2 West Ham United 0! Oh, and just for the record Barcelona beat Rayo Vallecano

Feast of New Orleans

Is it really 20 years since Jeff Bridges uttered the memorable words in his role as Jeff LebowskiThe Dude Abides! Well, I don’t know about you, but when in New Orleans your taste buds will be on a collision course for which that phrase is definitely the most apt response.

Lets start with a stroll along Dauphine Street calling into EAT for a dish to truly baffle the likes of Juno and BellaBlackened Catfish… a lightly crusty outer skin with soft meaty fish. Just add cups of gumbo, rice, and generous portions of gherkin and tomato to provide an introduction to the coming days of what is likely to be a culinary explosion.

Meanwhile, at Joey K’s over on Magazine Street I stumble across a NOLA staple of Red Beans and Rice. A slice of Andouille Sausage brings out some spicy flavour. Not exactly the best accompaniment to a full on Californian Cabernet Sauvignon, so my recommendation is to sample the free water with the food, and then gently sip the wine.

For an introduction to the definitive ‘Taste of the BayouThe Creole House on Canal Street offers a trio of cups to tantalise the taste buds, as the gastronomic Louisiana trilogy of Gumbo, Crawfish Etouffee and Jambalaya are presented for inspection. If you know what you want, dive in, but if you are unsure this option helps you decide what next to dive in to…

Strolling further along Canal Street why not try the Palace Cafe for a hint of Shrimp & Grits with a Creole Muniere, or maybe Turtle Soup followed by their signature dish of Crabmeat Cheesecake. The creole munière is a gravy with just the right level of spice to give an amazing dish extra oomph. As for the cheesecake… you have probably never tried anything like this before, and will then probably want to spend whatever it costs on returning to NOLA to check out what you just tasted! As for the poor turtles, well, you just have to when the opportunity arises… don’t you?

But, not everything here is about visiting restaurants. In between the dining establishments that provide great drinks there are, you guessed it, the drinking establishments providing amazing food. Try Vacherie on Toulouse Street, and while sitting at the bar sipping a range of local beers why not wrestle some Alligator Bites, Collard Greens, Bacon & Brussels Sprouts, oh, and a House Salad for balance…

And New Orleans may just have a welcome and forthright message for any youngsters dreaming of eating their usual fayre… take a hike Colonel Sanders! For the real taste of Fried Chicken check out the Treme based institution of Dooky Chase, particularly with a side order of Candied Yams (and that’s a Shrimp Creole that my friend is choosing, in case your concentration was drifting across the table!)…

Talking of Treme based institutions, a Shrimp Po-Boy slides down well, even with Tabasco Sauce, at Li’l Dizzy’s on Esplanade Avenue, but as a Brit I note that not even NOLA can hold a candle to our chips (that’s proper chips, not the fries nonsense inherited from somewhere in the basement of French cuisine)…

By now you are probably wondering how your health is coping with all of this gastronomic fabulousness. So, if it’s something a little lighter your looking for, but, being America no less enormous… try a salad or two, or more! Starting with the sumptuously named Satsuma Cafe on Maple Street the recommendation would be a boiled egg and avocado surrounded by the funky leaves of a Kale Salad washed down with a Beet Lemonade

Or, drop in to Luke on St Charles Avenue for Fried Oyster Salad accompanied by something distinctively fabulous that they do with Crispy Brussels Sprouts

Then again, if it’s music you like with your salad, try BB Kings on Decatur Street. The Spinach Salad with Blackened Chicken is a terrific accompaniment for the Blues, man!

BB King's Club Spinach Salad with Blackened Chicken

Did you say fine dining? Bayona on Dauphine Street provides a more delicate option than the soulful sounds of a blues club; but, starting with a Fig Salad or Quail Salad, the need for a deeper wallet will be more than compensated for on the tantalised taste buds…

Ultimately, thinking about all of this food, Envie is a place you may well be contemplating at this stage. Well it exists on Decatur Street and provides just the right accompaniment to a start of the day large cappuccino and OJ in the form of an Asparagus and Prosciutto Omelette with a side Biscuit (US rather than UK style of biscuit, that is)…

Until we speak again, not all institutions are necessarily good! NOLA is just waiting to ensnare you with a distinctive plate of their trademark Beignet. An avalanche of sugar covering a doughy case to a gloopy mess; think doughnuts ramped up to warp factor 10, this is something Juno and Bella would definitely turn noses up at and simply walk away… you may be well advised to do likewise, but when in New Orleans sometimes you simply have too dive in and hope!

Alka-Seltzer anyone!?

An American Dream

Once upon a time a young Donald developed an eye for the birds and an ability to stalk and hunt down any prey he cast his gaze upon…

He quickly decided he was unlikely to need any advice from New Orleans, however well intentioned…

But the idea of being the big chief seemed to his juvenile nihilism to be inevitable, and that he would undoubtedly become the biggest most colourful of all…

Alas, all he could truly manage in the eyes of sane people was to become a lizard, loved only by the abundant pond life he sought to mesmerise…

He quickly developed a narrow view of the company he wished to keep…

Unlike the Donald, if you come to New Orleans with an open mind and a true heart, a simple message will prevail…

Until we speak again, if you hold out a hand of support for something that tweets incessantly, what you may get in return is more guano than you can handle!

Feel the Big Easy

“See me, feel me, touch me, heal me”, as the famous lyrics go from The Who. But what does this matter in the grand scheme of things down New Orleans way?

Well… “A horse walks into a bar, and the bartender says what’s with the long face?” It might sound like the lead in to a comedy routine, but it is just something you might see on an ordinary day in New Orleans…

It is easy enough to ‘see‘ New Orleans… the all-out alcohol theme park that is Bourbon Street, embellished with ubiquitous beads, as it provides the backdrop to a perennial staging of the brotherhood and sisterhood of global redneckery. The hobos competing for hard earned dollars that the tourists wish only to pour down their own throats. The quintessentially potholed grime of French Quarter chic.

Kenaz Filan vividly captures the ‘seeing‘ of New Orleans as “a hospice where morals and good character could die in a suitably entertaining fashion.” Probably most usually accompanied with a suitable greeting and copious amounts of your favourite liquid…

But, is it enough just to ‘see‘ New Orleans? I guess for the inebriated it is, but this is so much more than a city… this is a way of life wrapped up in a diverse cultural history and presented through the medium of a multicultural human gumbo.

Look a little closer and you might just experience a whole new world of beauty and wonder. Because to get to know New Orleans you need to ‘feel‘ the real Nou Awlings.

It may be indelibly stamped with the sounds of jazz and the blues, most evocatively experienced by the street procession behind a traditional New Orleans brass band…

… but why not also listen a little closer to the daily soundtrack… that of competing freight train and steamboat horns that blast across the city; and the churning of streetcar wheels grinding through spacious avenues. Not to say of the constant chatter of back stories and life’s experiences being exchanged in the cauldron-like heat of the day.

However, for a recognizably noisy metropolis there is no shortage of places for quiet contemplation. This is a city truly ‘born on a bayou’, a remnant of which is routinely ignored by tourists who only see City Park on the opposite side of the streetcar terminus. But, for those with a fuller functioning compass, tranquility and a little historic charm (e.g. Pitot House) await…

Then again, if reinventing gravity is your thing, the meditation garden in Audubon Park offers up an Isaac Newton experience, as your breathing exercises are occasionally interrupted by acorns falling from the overhanging oaks…

The French Quarter may be a hotbed of Spanish and Creole architecture, but this is a city of Cajun influences amongst so many other immigrant representatives. Once you have got your head around the voodoo intsrpretations of Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya-Ya, the street names of Tchopitoulas, Terpsichore and Capdeville, then prepare your tongue for Crawfish Etouffee, Okra and Louisiana Seafood Gumbo, Beef Po Boys, Jambalaya, Muffulettas, and Alligator Sausage. But make your choice of establishment a little more discerning… why settle for a faux tourist French Quarter restaurant when the real deal is a shack only 15 minutes walk away at Li’l Dizzy’s in the Treme?

Then there is the quintessential flirtation with death! They might offer some lotions and potions to hold back the grim reaper, but don’t bet on it…

… But, when the voodoo strikes you down, try reserving a plot in a city of above ground cemeteries that is constantly battling high water table and below sea level inevitabilities!

Be warned, nothing happens too quickly here; there is no better embodiment of the Welsh phrase “I’ll do it now, in a minute!” than a native or adopter of Nou Awlings. In fact, some take the slower pace of life to a whole new level…

And, with a view to doing their own thing, rather than following the spirit of America, just how un-American can you get? (Some things were just meant to rile those Fump Truckers!)…

Until we speak again, I make no apologies for reminding you of the prescient words of Dan Baum, that New Orleans is “a city-sized act of civil disobedience.” Come, look, but above all else, feel it!

Wind power

What better source than a combination of a skillet of Brussels Sprouts (with added bacon) and a glass of the amber nectar?

Until we speak again, thanks go to the Vacherie bar at Hotel St Marie in the French Quarter of New Orleans for providing the stage and necessary equipment for the production of who knows what subsequent stormy conditions!